At each time step, a human moves to a nearby unoccupied space, and a zombie moves to the nearest human. If a zombie and an uninoculated human occupy the same space, a fierce battle ensues, in which the probability that the human will kill the zombie is pkH-z, and the probability that the zombie kills the human and converts them to their horrific undead form is pkZ-h.Zombies, however, are not attracted to inoculated humans and ignore them. If recovery? is enabled, then there is a chance (given by recoveryRate) that a zombified person will see the errors of their cannibalistic ways and return to human form. All these factors working together provide some interesting population dynamics, illustrated by the “Totals” population count plot on the screen.
There has been a lot on MERS this week as it continued to spread within the U.S. and Europe. The topic was so big that it was even covered on Buzzfeed (the web aggregator mostly known for quizzes and viral videos.) This made me think, “I wonder what sorts of biodefense topics are covered in traditional, mainstream news sources?” So, in celebration of the end of the Spring 2014 semester, this week I bring you just that!
We’ve got the U.S. Military’s defense plan for Zombies, measles and polio as a possible cancer cure, a photo essay about New York’s lost TB ward, and a doctor’s report from the Ebola fields of West Africa. Congrats to our newest graduates and have a wonderful weekend!
If you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse like I am (and let’s face it, you probably are since you’re here), here is one less thing to worry about. Like many other contingency plans, the Pentagon has one for dealing with the un-dead. Instead of using fictionalized versions of real countries, this scenario strings together a group of seemingly impossible scenarios that could never be mistaken for a real plan including “vegetarian zombies,” “chicken zombies,” and even (yes, this is not a joke) “evil magic zombies.”
Foreign Policy—“‘This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.’”
Popular science speaks of viruses as something to be avoided, but what if injecting a person with large amounts of virus could actually cure cancer? That’s what researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center did when using measles virus to destroy cancer cells. The results? In very small patient trials the researchers saw significant successes including total remission!
Fox News—“This research is all part of a new medical field of oncolytic virotherapy. The “proof of concept” studies stem from many years of animal research, analyzing how viruses can penetrate certain types of cancer cells. A typical cancer cell moves very fast and replicates very rapidly. Therefore, some viruses have an affinity to get into these cells and use them as incubators, so the viruses can multiply at a fast rate, as well. But once these viruses are attached, the cancer cells essentially explode and release the virus into the body.”
Those who have watched the History Channel’s Life After People or read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us may find this story especially interesting. Photographer Christopher Payne, became aware of North Brother Island—which lies in the East River—and was allowed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to conduct a photo survey of landscape. Used for a variety of purposes until its abandonment in the 1960s, between the 1880s and the 1930s, North Brother Island was the site of Riverside Hospital, where those suffering from infectious disease were treated in isolation.
Slate—“While Payne knew the island’s story, he often had trouble finding physical evidence of its past. “It was very hard for me to find the artifacts I expected to find. They really just didn’t exist. Most of the time you’re looking at the shell of a building, and it’s so far gone you can’t even tell what it was used for. It forced me to look closer, to see graffiti on the walls or to look on the floor,” he said. “A lot of it was detective work. It was like trying to invent a life for something, trying to find a shot or a view that suggested what it used to be.’”
As the numbers of infected and deaths continue to rise in the Western Africa Ebola outbreak, one of the stories we haven’t heard often is from physicians working there. In this piece for The Windsor Star, Dr. Tim Jagatic, writes about his experience working for three weeks in Conakry, Guinea, as a member of Doctors without Borders. He writes about the efforts of Doctors Without Borders and the WHO on stopping the spread of the virus as well as providing care for those infected. When not providing medical care, he reported that doctors would perform triage assessments or perform outreach looking for new patient cases.
The Windsor Star—“Jagatic and his fellow physicians would often encounter resistance to their efforts. “We have to work on demystifying the disease,” said Jagatic.“So many people who were infected with it, they were stigmatized. They were banished from their communities, their families, one thing I was really trying to push is that this is really just a virus, like the measles, like the flu, when you get it you treat it, you go home and you’re done. And you’re just like you were beforehand.’”
Image Credit: Christopher Payne
It’s been a busy week in the biodefense world, between the continuing outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa and the realization that the Black Death may actually have been pneumonic plague rather than bubonic plague, so let’s take a moment this Friday to slow things down.
Highlights include Ebola travel restrictions, a possible source for the Ebola outbreak, and how to protect yourself during the most serious pandemic of all—the zombie pandemic. Have a great weekend!
As of April 1, the number of suspect Ebola cases in Guinea has risen to 127 with 83 deaths (for a case fatality rate of 65%) according to the WHO. Liberia now has eight suspected cases with five deaths. Sierra Leone has had only two deaths after two bodies were repatriated after dying from Ebola. In neighboring Mali, the government has instituted thermal scans for those travelling to Mali as well as restricting movement within the capital city of Bamako. Meanwhile, Senegal has closed their border with Guinea and Saudi Arabia has suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims coming from Guinea and Liberia. Despite all of this, the WHO does not recommend travel restrictions.
Philippine Daily Inquirer—“The international health agency said there was not enough reason to push for the imposition of travel restrictions in response to the Ebola outbreak. “WHO does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied with respect to this event,” it said in a statement.”
In another response to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, officials have taken an unusual step of banning the consumption of bats as food—including grilled bat, bat soup and “other local delicacies.” It has long been suspected that bats are somehow instrumental in the spread of Ebola either as a vector or a reservoir for the disease.
CBS News—“‘We discovered the vector [infectious] agent of the Ebola virus is the bat,” Remy Lamah, the country’s [Guinea] health minister, told Bloomberg News. “We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals.’”
Just in time for the Walking Dead finale last weekend, the American Chemical Society released new research related to the chemistry of death, and how that chemistry can shield us from the flesh and brain eating horde of zombies.
Science is a serious subject and pandemic possibilities are crises in the making…but that doesn’t mean science can’t be fun for a general audience!
As if the zombie apocalypse wasn’t enough, during Season 4 of AMC‘s the Walking Dead (which had it’s finale on Sunday) the survivors had to deal with an unspecified, likely zoonotic, disease outbreak in the prison.
In this photo, one of the survivors who had to be intubated died and thus, we have zombie intubation!
Image Credit: AMC
As you may have noticed, its been a light week here at the Pandora Report. With Siddha’s departure, we have been working hard on getting our new team up and running. It is my pleasure, for my first post as Managing Editor, to introduce myself–Julia Homstad–and two new writers–Alena James and Chris Healey.
Alena Marie James is a Masters student in the GMU Biodefense program and a Staff Writer for the Pandora Report. Ms. James currently holds a BA in Political Science, a BS in Biology, and an MS in biology from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She serves as an adjunct instructor at Marymount University where she teaches microbiology and manages several life science laboratories. Ms. James is also currently working on her Masters Project regarding the role of intergovernmental organizations in preventing state actor pursuit of biological weapons programs. She represented George Mason at the 85th Annual Southern Political Science Association Conference this past January presenting preliminary research on the role of intergovernmental organizations in preventing state sponsored BW programs.
Chris Healey is a second-year GMU Biodefense Master’s student and a Staff Writer for the Pandora Report. He graduated magna cum laude from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s in communication and minors in biology and psychology. In 2013, Chris participated in an internship at the Virginia Department of Health’s Chickahominy Health District office. He was mentored by the district epidemiologist and assisted in foodborne illness investigations. His academic interests include vaccines, medical countermeasures, emerging infectious diseases, and foodborne illnesses. He is currently conducting his master’s project on the causes of success and failure of vaccine production for biodefense.
Julia Homstad is a Master’s student in the GMU Biodefense program and the Managing Editor of the Pandora Report. Julia graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Government and International Politics from George Mason University. Julia also holds a Master of Arts degree in European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies from the University of Toronto where she focused on the development of civil society in post-Communist countries. Since 2009, Julia has worked full-time at American Councils for International Education as a Program Officer for Secondary School Programs. With full funding from the U.S. Department of State, the programs Julia works on bring high school students from over 50 countries around the world to live in the U.S. with a host family for an academic year to help build mutual understanding between their home countries and the United States.
And since its Friday, I will leave you with a quirky video from Aimee Mann, David Wain and Dave Foley.
In her song titled “I’m Cured,” Aimee Mann plays the “common cold” who is forlorn after David Wain, a scientist, discovers a cure for her. The song is available as a digital download both as a single song and as a music video. This July, the song will be available as part of an album, 2776: A Millennium Of American Asskickery. Proceeds from the sale of the track go to OneKid OneWorld, an international organization that uses micro-loans to make a difference in the educational lives of impoverished children. Thank you to Annah Slack for bringing this song to my attention!
I hope everyone has a great weekend and I will see you back here next week for your regularly scheduled programming!